Made like Us

What poor Adam could not see was that he already was as like God as ever a creature could be. And though in his vain search to rise above his God-appointed station he succeeded only in bringing down the human race into sin, he could not destroy God’s purposes. In incarnation and in atonement his folly has been undone, and God has taken human form in order to lead man back to himself. Adam’s folly lay in believing he could ever rise higher than his human station. There is no higher station open to any creature.

—Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Complete in Christ, 110-11

Advent

A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, does various unessential things, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas 

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! (12)

Although the humanity of Jesus may be the least contested of all Christian doctrines today, it is hardly the least significant. While He was no mere man, the Christian faith depends as surely on His being ‘very man’ as it does on his being ‘very God’. The two ascriptions which to the skeptic are, respectively, trivial and incredible, interlock inextricably in the mystery of the incarnation. There could be no incarnation without a Jesus who was divine, but it is no less necessary that Jesus was human. The Word was made flesh.

—Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Complete in Christ, 12

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! (11)

He who is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh ever lives as our High Priest who through the consummation of His self-sacrifice as the Lamb of God makes intercession for us. As such He is enthroned at the summit of all being as the reconciling center of all things visible and invisible. He is none the other than our Lord Jesus, the incarnation of the Love of God, into whom and around whom all things revolve in the revelation of God to humanity and humanity to God, whose Kingdom, as the Nicene Creed affirms, will have no end. 18

—Thomas F. Torrance, “The Christ Who Loves Us” in A Passion for Christ, 18

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! (9)

A god and yet a man?
A maid and yet a mother?
Wit wonders what wit can
Conceive this or the other.

A god and can He die?
A dead man, can He live?
What wit can well reply?
What reason reason give?

God, truth itself, doth teach it.
Man’s wit sinks too far under
By reason’s power to reach it.
Believe and leave to wonder.

—15th Century anonymous poem

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! (8)

Green leaves all fallen, withered and dry;
Brief sunset fading, dim winter sky;
Lengthening shadows,
Dark closing in…
Then, through the stillness, carols begin!

Oh fallen world, to you is the song!
Death holds you fast and night tarries long.
Jesus is born, your curse to destroy!
Sweet to your ears, a carol of Joy!

Pale moon ascending, solemn and slow;
Cold barren hillside, shrouded in snow;
Deep,empty valley, veiled by the night;
hear angel music–hopeful and bright!

Oh fearful world, to you is the song.
Peace with your God, and pardon for wrong.
Tidings for sinners, burdened and bound,
A carol of joy! A Savior is found!

Earth wrapped in sorrow, lift up your eyes!
Thrill to the chorus filling the skies.
Look up, sad-hearted.  Witness God’s love;
Join in the carol swelling above!

Oh friendless world, to you is the song!
All Heaven’s joy to you may belong!
You who are lonely, laden, forlorn:
Oh fallen, oh friendless world!
To you, a Saviour is born!

—Eileen Berry (and a beautiful choral setting by Dan Forrest)

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! (7)

If Christmas time cannot ignite within us again something like a love for holy theology, so that we—captured and compelled by the wonder of the manger of the Son of God—must reverently reflect on the mysteries of God, then it must be that the glow of the divine mysteries has also been extinguished in our heart and has died out.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! (6)

Without the holy night, there is no theology. “God is revealed in flesh,” the God-human Jesus Christ—that is the holy mystery that theology came into being to protect and preserve. How we fail to understand when we think that the task of theology is to solve the mystery of God, to drag it down to the flat, ordinary wisdom of human experience and reason! Its sole office is to preserve the miracle as miracle, to comprehend, defend, and glorify God’s mystery precisely as mystery. This and nothing else, therefore, is what the early church meant when, with never flagging zeal, it dealt with the mystery of the Trinity and the person of Jesus Christ.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! (4)

For the great and powerful of this world, there are only two places in which their courage fails them, of which they are afraid deep down in their souls, from which they shy away. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ. No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied He sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught; they have no right, no hope; they are judged.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! (3)

We should think of the Eucharist not so much as Christmas—as if the Son were born again in bread—but think about it instead in terms of Advent. This table marks a triple Advent: It celebrates the past coming of the Lord; it is the coming of the Lord; and it looks ahead to the coming of the Lord. We commemorate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; we feed on Him by the Spirit; we proclaim the Lord’s death until He come.

When we view it as an Advent meal, we see that this Supper is about Jesus’ absence as well as His presence; it’s about the future as well as the present. It is a present feast, a feast we celebrate because the Lord has come. But it is not yet a full banquet, because the Lord is still to come. [1 Corinthians 11:26]

—Peter Leithart

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (2)

God of all wisdom,
our hearts yearn for the warmth of Your love,
and our minds search for the light of Your Word.
Increase our longing for Christ our Savior,
and strengthen us to grow in love,
that at the dawn of His coming
we may rejoice in His presence
and welcome the light of His truth.
This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ
Amen.

—Book of Common Prayer

Paradox

Christ’s own being on the Cross contained all the clashing contrarieties and scandalous fates of human existence. Life Himself was identified with death; the Light of the world was enveloped in darkness. The feet of the Man who said “I am the Way” feared to tread upon it and prayed, “If it be possible, not that way.” The Water of Life was thirsty. The Bread of Life was hungry. The divine Lawgiver was Himself unjustly outlawed. The Holy One was identified with the unholy. The Lion of Judah was crucified as a lamb. The hands that made the world and raised the dead were fixed by nails until they were rigid in death. Men’s hope of heaven descended into hell. He was deprived of all His rights, to be with us in our privation.

—Frank Lake, Clinical Theology, 116

The Doctor Becomes the Patient!

In his book On the Incarnation, Athanasius asks what it means to speak of Christ as the Great Physician of our humanity. Christ does not heal us by standing over against us, diagnosing our sickness, prescribing medicine for us to take, and then going away, to leave us to get better by obeying his instructions—as an ordinary doctor might.  No, He becomes the patient! He assumes that very humanity which is in need of redemption, and by being anointed by the Spirit in our humanity, by a life of perfect obedience, by dying and rising again for us, our humanity is healed in Him. We are not just healed “through Christ” because of the work of Christ but “in and through Christ.”  47

—James B. Torrance, “Christ in Our Place,” A Passion for Christ, 47

Wondrous Mystery

Mirabile mysterium declaratur hodie, innovantur naturae:
Deus homo factus est, id, quod fuit, permansit,
et quod non 
era, assumpsit, non commixtionem passus neque divisionem.

(A wondrous mystery is proclaimed today; all natures are renewed:
God has become human: He remained what He was,
and what He was not He became, suffering neither confusion nor division.)

—Jacob Handl (1550-1591)

A Marvel of the Heart

Though in our sin we are rebels deserving only the censure and judgment of God, in our human state apart from sin, that human experience into which Jesus entered, we are the glory of the entire creation. We are made like Him, as like Him as any creature could be made; and we are made for Him, for fellowship with Him to all eternity. The real marvel of incarnation is not that God should become man, but that He should do so for us men and for our salvation. At the end of the day, it is not chiefly a marvel of the mind, but a marvel of the heart.

—Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Complete in Christ, p. 28

Incarnation

Article 18: The Incarnation

  • So then we confess that God fulfilled the promise which He had made to the early fathers by the mouth of His holy prophets when He sent His only and eternal Son into the world at the time set by Him. 
  • The Son took the “form of a servant” and was made in the “likeness of man,”^33 truly assuming a real human nature, with all its weaknesses, except for sin; being conceived in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, without male participation.
  • And He not only assumed human nature as far as the body is concerned but also a real human soul, in order that He might be a real human being. For since the soul had been lost as well as the body He had to assume them both to save them both together.
  • Therefore we confess, against the heresy of the Anabaptists who deny that Christ assumed human flesh from His mother, that He “shared the very flesh and blood of children”;^34 that He is “fruit of the loins of David” according to the flesh;^35 “born of the seed of David” according to the flesh;^36 “fruit of the womb of the virgin Mary”;^37 “born of a woman”;^38 “the seed of David”;^39 “a shoot from the root of Jesse”;^40 “the offspring of Judah,”^41 having descended from the Jews according to the flesh; “from the seed of Abraham”—for He “assumed Abraham’s seed” and was “made like His brothers except for sin.”^42

    In this way He is truly our Immanuel—that is: “God with us.”^43

    ^33 Phil. 2:7 ^34 Heb. 2:14 ^35 Acts 2:30 ^36 Rom. 1:3 ^37 Luke 1:42 ^38 Gal. 4:4 ^39 2 Tim. 2:8 ^40 Rom. 15:12 ^41 Heb. 7:14 ^42 Heb. 2:17; 4:15 ^43 Matt. 1:23

—from the Belgic Confession 1567, 1619)